The sonic hurricane of the Billy Squier sound and fury swirls with lacerating leads, omnipotent vocals and, in the eye of the storm, the primitive power rendered by drummer Bobby Chouinard. Favoring fire and soul over flash and technique, Chouinard’s rhythmic exploits are raunchy, raw, and passionate. With the interplay between drums and guitar in the Squier sound being symbiotic in nature, the songs are structured with an interdependence on both elements: Where there’s a wailing guitar lick, you ‘re bound to hear a thunderous drum attack. Classic tracks like “Lonely Is The Night, ” “Don’t Say No,” “The Stroke,” and “Emotions In Motion” typify Chouinard’s heavy-bottomed style, where hypnotic swells build in momentum and intensity. Although Bobby commented that he feels “very proud to be part of the Billy Squier sound,” after hearing the two of them together, it’s pretty evident that Squier is also a very large part of Bobby Chouinard’s sound, as well.
Hailing from the Boston suburb of Brockton, Massachusetts, Chouinard was born on June 26, 1953. With little more than three years of practice and garage-band experience under his belt, young Bobby ventured out on the local club circuit, gigging regularly by the ripe old age of 14. After migrating to New York City in the mid-’70s, he eventually joined forces with another ex-Bostonite, singer-songwriter-guitarist Billy Squier. Chouinard lent a hand in forming Squier’s present band, and since its inception in 1980 and with the subsequent release of four LPs (Tale Of The Tape, Don’t Say No, Emotions In Motion, and Signs Of Life), the group has tasted almost universal success.
Chain-smoking and clutching a can of Coca-Cola—“It’s the best thing to have when you just wake up,” he advises—Bobby was relaxed, informal, and sometimes irreverent in his views on practicing, preparation, and technical facility, but always humorous and insightful. He only had one request. The day I arrived at his home for the interview was the afternoon following the Hagler-Hearns title bout, and Bobby, a sports enthusiast, asked me, “Could you mention that I went to high school with Marvin Hagler? He’s a great guy, and it would be really nice if you could mention it in the article.”
TS: After playing with Billy Squier for five years, how has your role changed and developed?
BC: I like to consider that I’m part of the Billy Squier sound and the whole signature of it. Billy writes around his strengths, and one of his strengths is the drums. So, when he writes a song, he writes particularly with drums in mind. Billy is probably the best drummer I know who doesn’t, and really can’t, play the drums. I’m just very proud to be part of it all.
It must have been six years ago when I first played with Billy, and I immediately knew that he was going to be a star. It was just a matter of getting the right collection of musicians together and then making the right record. I brought Doug Lubahn [bass] and Jeff Golub [guitar] into the band, and I’m kind of the leader of the group in the sense of seniority.
It’s kind of a rags-to-riches story, because we really started from scratch. There was no band except Billy and myself in the beginning. Billy had been in a group called Piper, which had put out a few albums that hadn’t been very successful. Once you release a couple of albums that haven’t sold well, record companies tend to consider you to be damaged goods. Since Piper hadn’t made any money for A&M Records, Billy hadn’t been recording for a couple of years when he finally got his own project off the ground. He was writing songs during the interim, but he didn’t have a record deal. When he decided to split with Piper to get his own band together, he knew that he wanted to make it his trip. He writes and sings everything. The group of musicians on his original demo were Andy Newmark, Bob Kulick, and John Siegler, and on the strength of that demo, he was eventually signed by Capitol. Brian May was supposed to produce the first album, but because of scheduling problems, he couldn’t do it. Eddie Offord was brought in to replace him. For some reason—maybe they didn’t think it was worth their while or they just lost interest while Billy shopped for a deal—the original group of musicians who did the demo didn’t want to be on the album, Tale Of The Tape. Anyway, now Billy finally had a record deal after two years of sitting around, but he had no band. He ran into my roommate, who was a promotion man at R.S.O. records, at a club called Trax. My roommate suggested that Billy see me for an audition. I had been playing in a band called Pierce Arrow at the time, and I had known Billy a little bit in Boston. He had transplanted himself in New York after realizing that he wasn’t going to make it in the business with Boston as his home base. I had also come to New York for basically the same reason, and we had both been scrounging around, doing what we had to do to survive.
Pierce Arrow consisted of Doug Lubahn, Jeff Kent, Robin Batteau, David Bushkin, Werner Fritching, and myself. John Scher was our manager and the original idea was that we were going to be an East Coast type of Toto—a real musician’s band. It sounded good on paper, but because there were so many writers in the band, there was no genuine direction at all. After we had done three albums on Columbia Records, which were all disasters, the band folded.
When I went down to audition for Billy, it was just me and him—a set of drums, and a guitar and amp. He had a demo cassette of “The Big Beat,” which he put on for about 25 seconds. I said, “Okay, turn the tape off. I’m ready.” So I got up on the drums and started hitting the bass drum. The sound just flew across the room. Billy said, “You’ve got the job,” because I hit really hard and that was the sound he was looking for. We’ve been together and best friends ever since.
TS: Naturally, your role has changed within the framework of the band during that time.
BC: I think we’ve got to go back to using the drums as the signature of the sound, which is something we’ve gotten away from. I haven’t actually heard any of the new songs that we’re going to be doing for the next record, but we’ve been talking about it and we realize that we’ve come full circle. The drums have remained a staple of the sound, but as for the actual playing, I think it’s become a bit too musical for its own good. I think it has to do with where Billy’s priorities have shifted, the type of songs he’s been writing, and what he’s trying to say. That’s not to say that this was good or bad, but he’s coming back to what we initially sounded like. The drums and the entire sound will probably get a lot nastier. I can’t wait.
It’s funny. When Don’t Say No, which is a fine album, came out, it was really hip to like Billy Squier. Once we became a success, it was hip not to like us, which, essentially, is human nature. A lot of people complained that the last record, Signs Of Life, was a wrong move career-wise because it transformed us from a legitimate rock band to a Rick Springfield thing. We lost a certain amount of credibility and respect because of the video for “Rock Me Tonight.” It was criticized because people didn’t want to see Billy rolling around on satin sheets instead of playing the guitar. I do know that we are all sincere about whatever it is we do. We just make the songs sound the best we can. And if I don’t like the song, I’ll be the first one to tell Billy, because I’m his biggest fan and his best critic. I guess I’m sort of a barometer.
TS: How much creative input do you inject?
BC: We all contribute. It’s really about as democratic as you can get. Let’s say that something bothers you about a song. Well, it’s one thing to say, “That part stinks,” but that is not the way to go about it. If you say, “I don’t like that part, but try this,” it’s a more positive way to offer criticism.
TS: So you make suggestions about all the aspects of a song, not just in regard to the drumming, right?
BC: The way we go about it is Billy plays the songs for us on his acoustic guitar at the rehearsals. The whole band just sits in a circle listening. First of all, I totally remove myself from being a member of the band and try to hear the songs like a fan would. If I wasn’t into the music, I just couldn’t give my best performance. Then, we might make suggestions about cutting verses in half if they’re too long, or putting the guitar solo in the best place, changing a keyboard part, or maybe instead of using 8ths on the hi-hats, trying quarters. We end up spending a considerable amount of time in preproduction, because no matter how good it sounds in the rehearsal studio, once you do get into the recording studio, some things won’t translate well on tape.
So, it may sound great in rehearsal, but for some reason, it’s a lot easier to change things when you know exactly what you’re doing, rather than fumbling through unfamiliar material. It’s all pretty much planned out when it comes to choosing what cymbal I’ll be using or when I’m going to hit the bell. If something isn’t working well, it’s a lot easier to say, “Stay on the hi-hat during the guitar solo as opposed to hitting a cymbal,” but if you weren’t aware that you had planned to use a cymbal during that guitar solo, then you’re in big trouble. Of course, there’s a large emphasis on spontaneity as well. I can walk in the studio after being up for a couple of days or something, and end up doing my best work by accident. Some things we’ve done were unintentional—largely mistakes that sounded great but never would have been attempted normally.
TS: Can you remember a particular song or fill that came about accidentally?
BC: For instance, on “Everybody Wants You,” during the last verse of the song, I lost concentration and I put a fill in where I thought the last verse was going to start, but in fact, it was a double riff. It ended up being a fill into the next verse, while everybody else was still on the riff. We said, “Wow, that sounds kind of neat. Leave it in.” Circumstances like that are really fun.
TS: With Billy most definitely being the center of attention, or the star, as you put it, is your self-expression ever hindered?
BC: I believe that, no matter who you work with, you earn your own space. I mean, sure, it’s not the Billy Squier Band. It’s Billy Squier. He’s the front man. He writes and sings all the songs, yet you earn your own niche in the band. It’s up to you to command the role you’re going to play, and I look upon it as a concept rather than a challenge. Billy said that he looks to me as his Clarence demons. When people think of our music, they think of the banter between us. It’s an incredible responsibility to have, but it’s easy because that’s what I do anyway, so I didn’t have to think about it.
TS: Have you ever done any songwriting?
BC: I’ve never written a song in my life, so I wouldn’t really know how to go about it. I’m not really a lyrical kind of person anyway. I’m more into riffs, melodies, grooves, changes, and feels. To get back to the band, Billy has never been given enough credit for his lyrics. What he’s saying is pretty clever in that you can take his lyrics any number of ways, and I think that’s wonderful. Music is an art, and art is in the eye of the beholder. Many of his songs have a double entendre. He says a lot of things tongue-in-cheek, but he’s very clever about it. You can look at the words on a surface level, or you can read into it more deeply. I don’t actually write songs or lyrics, but there’s an art to making a song sound as good as it potentially can, and that’s what I look upon my contribution as.
TS: When you go into the studio, how are the tracks recorded? Do you usually go in and lay down the drum tracks first?
BC: We all play together. Aside from Tale Of The Tape, for the last three albums that we’ve done, all five of us have been in the studio together. It’s practically the same situation as our rehearsals, and for us, it’s the most comfortable way of doing it. We seem to get the best performance overall, and the result lacks the sterility that’s often associated with recording instruments separately. I don’t even use a click track. For this band, working in this manner seems to be the best way to go. I’m not saying that using click tracks or overdubbing is a negative thing. I’ve had the experience of working outside of this band for other artists where I have done things via their system, which is fine. When I played on Ted Nugent’s last record, I used a click track through everything and found it was a great learning experience. It was especially a surprise to me, because I wasn’t expecting to use one on such a hard rock album like that one.
TS: Was that your first experience with playing alongside a click?
BC: Occasionally, I had used one in the past to do various projects, but I had never worked with one on an entire album. It took me a while to forget about it when I used it on Ted’s album. Once you start to play with a click, you’ve got to get it out of your mind. If you are conscious of the click and play to it, it’s going to sound like you played to it. In the beginning, I fought it tooth and nail. I just didn’t like it at all. I was getting nervous—the whole bit. It took a couple of passes through for me to get used to it, but after a while, it became almost a part of the band.
TS: Earlier, you spoke about Billy’s ability to write numbers around the strength of the drums. Does he generate patterns for you, or does he give you a general idea of what he wants you to play?
BC: Sometimes, he’ll write a drum pattern as the hook of the song, which is neat. He’s very creative as far as drum parts go. He hears things in his head, but he can’t actually play the ideas out for me on drums. When he tries to play, I wince, because it reminds me of fingers running down a blackboard. But what’s really important is that he has his own specific ideas, which he explains to me.
TS: If he can’t actually play, how does he communicate his ideas to you?
BC: I know what he wants, because he’ll explain things verbally, or on occasion, he’ll sit behind the kit and attempt to bang it out roughly. A lot of times, what he wants is what I would have played anyway. It’s always easier if he comes in with a basic notion of what kind of beat he wants, because he’s lived with these songs in his mind for such a long time that he’s looking at the track in a far larger scope.
TS: There’s sort of a dialogue going between you and Billy on “Whadda You Want From Me,” where the interaction between drums and guitar has almost a conversational quality. The juxtaposition of spaces and pauses on that track seems reminiscent of John Bonham’s playing.
BC: Again, I can’t take all the credit for that one. Billy really came up with it. It’s funny. When Billy started writing songs for that album, he wrote in a certain genre. Since I go out to a lot of clubs, I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s going on musically. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening and what people are getting into. I mentioned to Billy at the time that he might try writing a song in the vein of “Another One Bites The Dust,” so he wrote “The Stroke.” I also suggested doing something with a Judas Priest feel to it, and he wrote “Whadda You Want From Me.” The structure and the spacings on that were his idea. He had come to rehearsal with a pattern in his head. That song is another tune that was written entirely around the drums.
As far as the parallels to Bonham go, he really wasn’t an influence on me. People have made the comparison in the past, but the connection has more to do with Billy than what I’m actually sounding like. Billy does sound a bit Robert Plant-ish, so sometimes there’s the association that I sound like Bonham. You see, Zeppelin was a major influence on him, but not on me.
TS: “The Big Beat” is a song that’s built around you. Your bass drum is really open, very resonating—a huge sound.
BC: I got that sound in the studio just by using my kit and hitting hard. My studio setup consists of two floor toms, one rack tom, a snare, and a bass drum. That’s it. I use five drums because that’s all I require, plus I’m basically too lazy to play any more drums than that. I mean, I use that second floor tom as an ashtray. [laughs] I must have hit that a total of three times.
TS: Contrastingly, you achieved a hammering type of effect on “Take A Look Behind You.”
BC: On “Take A Look Behind You,” the producer, Jim Steinman, came up with that approach. He got the idea from “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” where it’s all floor tom. Instead of using the hi-hat throughout, I’m just playing time on the floor tom, then going into the hi-hat in the second verse, and then adding cowbell.
TS: How did you come up with that distinctive “whooshing” snare in “The Stroke”?
BC: It’s just a recording technique that’s been used. We took a 24-track machine, flipped the tape over, and played it backwards. After we recorded the song regularly, I went into a room with a snare drum miked up—just a snare. I heard the whole song backwards through the headphones. It was all in time, just in reverse. There are no drum fills in that song at all, so we just recorded my snare part, hitting on the beat, turned the tape back to its regular position, and got that decay of the snare drum. That’s where the “shhh” sound comes from. I think I did it three times to make it as fat as possible. It was pretty easy.
TS: When you play that song live, how do you duplicate the backwards decay?
BC: First of all, we play that song a bit faster live, so it’s not quite as dramatic as the original. Alan, our keyboard player, has a white-noise button on his Prophet. We’ll start the song, and on the bass drum beat, he’ll use the white-noise effect. I’ll play the backbeat, but he creates the actual sound. There’s no way we could get that decay effect before I hit it, so we have to compensate for that.
TS: Many of the songs begin with a guitar riff, synthesizer, or a sampled sound, rather than a drumbeat. Perhaps that lends even more attention to you when you do come in.
BC: Again, that has a lot to do with the way Billy writes the tunes. He tries to set everything up to get the maximum excitement. It’s like a tease. On some of the songs, he’ll bring drums in where you would least expect them. It will start out simply. Then, we’ll really go for it. It’s not predictable. It’s just musical intuition.
TS: You’ve worked with some pretty illustrious producers. Did their drum treatments ever differ from the approach that you and Billy had?
BC: I’ll tell you the truth: The three different producers we’ve been involved with haven’t really played any major part whatsoever concerning my role. We’re extremely well rehearsed before we go into the studio. Billy is really the producer, and the other people back there are an extra set of ears. There are times when they make suggestions, but the five of us do just about everything in preproduction. We rarely have the producer with us in the studio—hardly ever. Jim Steinman came in a couple of times, but as for revamping any songs, the producers just don’t. We are so prepared before we enter the studio that there’s no guesswork involved.
TS: Is the process of making a record enjoyable for you?
BC: To me, being in the studio is just the vehicle. First and foremost, I consider myself a performer. I love to perform. As for making records, I’ve had some less than terrific times working for other people. A lot of the time, it’s too serious and the element of fun is missing. I take it so seriously that I don’t take it seriously. I think that’s where people lose perspective in the sense that they forget what this idiom is all about. It’s just rock ‘n’ roll, and it should be fun. Playing live is really where it’s at for me. The studio is great when I’m done working in it. It took me seven days to do my tracks for Emotions In Motion, eight days for Don’t Say No, and eight for Signs Of Life. After my part is down, I’m not back in the studio until the very end to do maybe a cowbell overdub or something. By the same token, those seven or eight days I am spending in there are very pressured, because if I don’t do it then, we’re in big trouble. When those last songs are done, I can walk out and say, “Have a good time guys,” and leave them to their adjustments or extra overdubs. Sometimes, the guys will call me up from the studio at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and say, “Why don’t you come down, Bob?” I’ll say, “That’s okay. Do your keyboard overdubs.” I don’t want to be anywhere near the place. It’s kind of nice when you do remove yourself from it, and then go back in and hear the rough mixes after everything else is done. It’s exciting again. We rehearse about six or seven hours per day during our preproduction period, so we’ve been around those songs a long time.
TS: How long does that preproduction phase usually last?
BC: Well, on Signs Of Life, we had a big problem with our producers. Mutt Lange was supposed to do it, but he was doing The Cars album and was still involved with that when we were supposed to begin, which was in November. He still wasn’t finished in December, and by the time he was finally finished, he probably wasn’t ready to go back in the studio again. We suffered in the sense that we went through three different time periods of preproduction. We had been ready to record in November, and then found out that we weren’t going to England to record. Then, there were another couple of weeks of rehearsals and we were set to go, but it was postponed again. Then, we found out that Mutt wasn’t going to do it. There was another three-week preproduction period in February, and then we had to postpone again. Rehearsals are crucial in that you can’t walk away from songs for a month, and expect to go into the studio and record them. They have to be fresh in your mind. That incident with Signs Of Life was a real drag. To have to do those songs through three weeks of rehearsal, three weeks of pre-productions, then a month off of not knowing what was going on, and then a few more weeks of rehearsals was like making the album four times.
TS: Let’s go back and talk about when you started playing.
BC: I started playing when I was 12, after taking piano lessons for a year, which I enjoyed. My mother and father had a little player piano that I loved to use. I had really been into the Dave Clark Five and the keyboard player in that group had a Vox Continental key- board, which I thought was very cool. I wanted to be just like him. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, since they were pretty expensive back then. Anyway, to tell you the truth, I really started out fooling around, playing on tables and Styrofoam boxes. My first drumset was a snare and a bass drum that my father saw in the classified ads. He payed $25 for that big old bass drum—a 30″ marching bass drum. I wish I still had it today. It probably would be worth a fortune. The snare was a Leedy snare—the catgut snares circa 1964 or ’65. My parents were real smart, because they knew that, if I could put up with playing that $25 set—it was not a heavy investment at all to them—I could graduate to a better set. So, the following Christmas I got my father to buy me a real drumset, and it was all downhill from there. [laughs]
I played in some junior high school bands, and by 14, I was playing nightclubs in the area. I’d see my science teacher sitting in the audience sometimes. It was great. I would play four nights a week, Thursday through Sunday, five sets a night. 1 missed a lot of school, but I knew even then what my priorities were. I knew that I wanted to be successful. I was totally self-taught, and I stole from the best. My brother, who is ten years older than me, was a big influence. He was always playing those Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis records, and without being aware of it, I was heavily influenced by that music. He would take me along to all the clubs he was going to, and I’d just stand and watch. I was totally enamored with it all. I was going to these places, seeing every band that I possibly could, plus I was always practicing as a kid—hours upon hours of practice.
TS: Timekeeping just came naturally to you?
BC: Well, you see, in those days, no one thought about timekeeping. I mean, you listened to Rolling Stones records with Charlie Watts all over the place, but who cared? What was time? No one really thought about it. I just loved to perform.
TS: What type of material were you covering in the early days?
BC: The bands that I played in when I was in junior high did a lot of dances, so it was all soul stuff, really—also, a lot of Vanilla Fudge and Young Rascals, which were really popular bands at the time. We also did Sam & Dave, Sly & The Family Stone—all great music. It’s a drag that kids these days don’t have those influences.
TS: Which drummers were an inspiration for you at that time?
BC: Don Brewer from Grand Funk Railroad has always been an idol of mine. That was my favorite band when I was growing up, and I stole a lot of things from him. When he did Bob Seeger’s last tour, I had the pleasure to meet him, and he said that he was a fan of mine, which made me feel really good. I also love Charlie Watts, Ringo, Carmine, Dino Danelli—all those guys. In a certain respect, I’ve incorporated all of their strengths into my playing, which has made me a conglomeration of their styles. As far as drummers go, I like the songs themselves—the grooves. I love Def Leppard. The incident with Rick Allen losing his arm really destroyed me. I mean, here was a kid with tremendous talent, and for that to happen to him is devastating. Apparently, Bill Ludwig is making him a special kit. They’re going to try to figure out a way that he can continue to play, which I think is wonderful.
TS: You were saying that you had a definite preference for playing live over recording. Does your frame of mind affect your live performance?
BC: Well, I’m the comic relief for the band. You can probably figure that out just by the way I live. But I really can’t have any distractions before I play. Sleeping is the best thing for me. After the soundchecks, Billy and I go to our dressing rooms and sleep. Do you want to know what the best part of the show is for me? It’s the walk up to the stage. To me, that’s what it’s all about. The actual playing is wonderful—doing the show itself. I could feel pretty ill, but as soon as the first band comes off the stage, the show must go on. It’s always better for me to eliminate all distractions before I go on. We have a half-an-hour call, which is when I usually get dressed. Then I might go and watch the last song of the opening band and gauge the audience. I can pretty much tell what kind of a show it’s going to be by the first song, as far as audience response goes. We’re received well every night, and it’s really great when 20,000 people know the words to our songs better than we do. [laughs]
TS: What do you look for in equipment?
BC: I endorse Ludwig, but not because I get them for free. My kit is a Ludwig because of the way I play and how hard I play. To me, they’re the best drums. They’re very dependable. I’d use them even if I had to pay for them.
My snare drums are made for me by a company in Memphis. Dennis Elliot, the drummer from Foreigner, introduced me to a man who customizes snares himself, and I had the chance to try them out. They sounded great. The one I use is about 10 x 14. It’s like a parade snare. I have two or three snares that he’s made for me.
My Ludwig kit consists of a 24″ bass drum, one 12 x 14 rack tom, a 16 x 16 floor tom, and a 16 x 18 floor tom, which, as I said, I never really touch. In the studio, all the heads are on, including both bass drum heads. We like the drums to ring in the studio—to sound like real drums—so we leave the heads on. For live shows, we just cut out the front middle part to shove the mic’s in.
On the last tour, the motif of our stage—the risers, the platforms—was a very obscure lavender type of color. I had wanted to get a drumset to match that color, so we sent a sheet of our stage color to Bill Ludwig III. Since Ludwig doesn’t make that color, Bill sent my drums to Hamer Guitars in Chicago. Hamer painted my drums to match that shade. It’s just a stock Ludwig set straight off the assembly line, but it’s the only drumset of its kind due to its color.
TS: What about your cymbal setup?
BC: Cymbal-wise, I love Paiste. Again, I do endorse them, but that’s the brand I’d use no matter what. When I’m playing live, I go for big cymbals: three 24″ crashes and a 24″ ride, a couple of smaller crashes—I’m not sure of the exact specifications—plus 15″ Sound Edge hi-hats. In the studio, those 24″ cymbals would spread over everything—they’re much too loud—so when we’re record- ing, I tend to use smaller cymbals. I have so many cymbals that I literally just pick up a different cymbal for just about every song, depending on what effect each song might require. I use so many cymbals in the studio that it would be impossible to keep track of everything I work with.
The funny thing about endorsing equipment is that, since I can afford to buy the stuff myself, the companies send it to me for free. When you’re young, you’d use a hubcap or just about anything to provide a sound that was remotely good—whatever was available that you could afford. Then, when you play in a big rock band like this, you get it for free. It’s very ironic.
TS: You seem to hit rather hard. What types of sticks and heads do you prefer?
BC: The sticks I use are Ludwig 3S. They’re like Louisville Sluggers—just about as hard as baseball bats. The heads I use are Remo Ambassadors—just stock heads. I don’t break anything. In fact, I can’t remember ever breaking any heads, even though I do hit hard. I don’t crack cymbals either.
TS: Do you place much significance on the type of equipment you use in connection with your own personal sound?
BC: Drumming is certainly the drums themselves and all the equipment that goes with them, but 1 think it’s really all in the touch. I’d like to think that I can make any drumset sound good. Whether it’s a cheap set that I might use when I sit in with a band down in the Village, or a top-of-the-line kit, it’s all in the touch.
TS: How particular are you about damping methods?
BC: Live, it’s just a pillow with a mic’ stand base in a cover inside the bass drum. There’s no tape on the rest of the drums. It’s all natural.
TS: Who tunes the drums in the studio, you or the engineer?
BC: Billy tunes the drums. He’s really into all of that. He’s like a little kid. I really don’t have the patience for all that. It’s not that I couldn’t do it myself; it’s just that he gets off on doing it, and it doesn’t bother me in the least if I don’t do it. Anyway, I’d rather be out in the lobby watching The Jeffersons. [laughs]
TS: What about live shows? I can’t picture Billy tuning your kit before a gig.
BC: Oh, I do it. We do about five live shows a week when we’re touring, so it becomes automatic. The drumset always sounds the same every night. Just like a Holiday Inn room—I don’t want any surprises when I get up there. The roadies are great. They work with me, and they know what sound I want.
TS: It’s obvious that you prefer to expend your energies on the playing of music rather than the preparation behind it.
BC: Yeah, definitely. I hate to rehearse. I don’t practice. I’m certainly not what you would call a drummer’s drummer. Except, when I do get on stage, I had better be great. And again, I think that I have been playing the drums long enough that I don’t have to sit in the dressing room and do paradiddles or work with a practice pad for two hours. I just walk off the bus, catch a nap in the dressing room, then head for the stage, get out there, and do it.
TS: Ian Paice had mentioned that you were called in to replace him when he couldn’t complete his sessions for Gary Moore’s last album. What circumstances led to your involvement in this project?
BC: The connection goes back to Gary’s manager, Stewart Young, who was Billy’s manager at the time. I had met Gary in London about five years ago, and we hit it off really well. When Gary came to New York, he called me up and asked me to play on his demo. He took the demos back to London, eventually got a deal and asked me to join his band after recording his most recent album. I couldn’t do it, because I wasn’t going to leave this band. Gary’s a sweet guy and a good friend. I love his music, but it wouldn’t have been right. I ended up playing on one track on Corridors Of Power. That was fun. It was Gary’s first album.
Last year, I got a call from Stewart Young. Gary was in the studio working on his record, and Stewart said that Ian wasn’t going to be finishing it. He asked me what I was doing and I said, “Nothing.” So I flew right out there, and six days later I was back home, having finished the rest of the album. The LP is called Victims Of The Future, and I played on six songs. No rehearsals—I just got off the plane and headed straight into the studio. It was great. I love that kind of a challenge. It’s nice to be able to help your friends out. I just have an intuition with Gary, having worked with him, knowing the way he plays and what he wants to hear. I sort of helped to bail out the project for him.
Last May, Gary had the American tour coming up—he was opening for Rush—and again, I received another frantic phone call. At that time, Billy was mixing Signs Of Life, and our rehearsals for the tour weren’t starting until July 5. Gary said, “Ian Paice is going back with Purple, and I need a drummer for my tour.” I ended up putting in two rehearsals with Gary and spent two and a half months with him on the Rush tour. I had one day off and then had to start rehearsals for Billy Squier, but I love that. It was a great time, plus it was very rewarding. The first gig for Gary’s tour was Albuquerque—a good place to work the kinks out. It went very well.
TS: Working with people that you get along well with is a priority of yours, isn’t it?
BC: Absolutely. It’s a necessity. I think everybody benefits, whether it be a session with total strangers or working with people that you’ve already met. Somebody has to break the ice, and it’s usually me. For me, it’s always been easier to be nice to people.
I don’t do a lot of work with people that I don’t know, but I have been in that situation. When I did Ted Nugent’s last record, Penetrator, I hadn’t previously met Ted and 1 hadn’t really thought all that highly of his music in the past. I had gotten a call to do the album, along with Doug and Alan, from a friend at Atlantic Records. Ted had been a big fan of Billy Squier, so he wanted to use us on his records, which is very flattering. I had heard all these stories about Ted—wild man, crazy. He turned out to be the most considerate guy you would ever want to work with. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been looking forward to doing the record. It was just that I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be a good record, and Ted’s a friend for life.
TS: Although you utilize only acoustic drums with Billy Squier, have you ever played any electronic drums on sessions with other people?
BC: I think the whole fuss over electronic drums will prove to be a white elephant. I see it as just another trend. Sure, almost everybody is using them on records these days, but a couple of years down the road, people will be using them less frequently. Even now, acoustic drums are slowly becoming more prevalent in the wake of all the Simmons users out there. The electronic drum craze is trendy, and to me, going with a trend just for the sake of being trendy is an absolute waste of time.
If I was asked to use them on a Billy Squier record, I would do it. I don’t really have anything against using them. But do you remember Syndrums from the early ’70s? For a time, everybody was using them. Now, I can’t remember seeing a Syndrum anywhere in the last four years. I just love the sound of true drums. Although, if someone wants to buy me a set of Simmons, I’ll play them. [laughs] As far as drum machines go, I’ve never used those either, but I probably should learn to program them.
TS: In addition to recording with other musicians, you’ve begun to get involved with producing. How did that come about?
BC: Well, let’s face it. I’m not getting any younger, and although I hope to be playing for many years—maybe indefinitely—there might be a time when the live gigs will be a thing of the past. So, I’m trying to hone my producing skills by working on as many projects as possible.
I’ve coproduced Scarlett Rivera, which was a fantastic experience because she’s a violinist who never really sang on her own record before this. I’m very happy with that. I’ve also produced a friend of mine, Rio DeGennaro. Jeff Golub and Alan St. Jon also played on his demo tape. All of us will be going down to do a three- week stint at a club in Bermuda. Then we’ll be recording an album, which I’ll be producing. In addition to those projects, I’m also producing a band called Paris from Westchester County, plus another friend of mine by the name of Matt Tyme. Different projects keep my ears and chops sharp.
Like I said, I’m not a songwriter, but I love to arrange things. Actually, I’m pretty good at it. I’m getting better at doing those production tasks. I’ll always be a drummer, but with production skills and experience, I’ll always be sure that 1 can go into a studio at any point in time and be involved with the creation of good music.
TS: What would you cite as one of the high points of your career so far?
BC: That would have to be the first time I ever played the Boston Garden. The significance of that is that the Boston Garden was the first place I had ever seen a big rock ‘n’ roll show. I was 14 when I saw Grand Funk Railroad there. I remember sitting up in the stands thinking, “Bobby, if you play here someday, you’ll have made it.” Although I’ve played bigger halls, that venue is certainly the most sentimental place for me. Now that I live in New York, Madison Square Garden is also a thrill. No matter how many times you’ve played there, it’s always exciting.
TS: You seem to have retained the enthusiasm that you probably had when you first began playing.
BC: Well, I know that 1 haven’t lost perspective. I think that, once you take yourself too seriously, you’re in trouble. If your perspective is lost in the sense that you forget why you started playing in the first place—that boyish attitude, that enthusiasm—then you should find something else to do. You can’t fool your audience, because it eventually shows in your work.
I enjoy it even more now because of the logistics of it all. I’ve gotten myself in a position where I don’t have to play clubs, which I love to do. The logistics are just better now, because there’s more freedom and more variety. It might be the Houston Astrodome one night and then a hole-in-the-wall cabaret in the Village the next.
TS: You appear to have lost some weight recently. You look different than you did on some of those earlier Squier videos. Has getting into better physical condition affected your endurance?
BC: Well, 1 used to weigh about 175 pounds, and through rigorous activities—being on the road, working a lot—it just gradually came off. I lost 35 pounds, and as far as playing and endurance go, I think I play better because I look better and feel better about myself. If I feel better about myself, I tend to have more stamina. 1 hadn’t realized how bad 1 looked until I looked at those old videos one day and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe that’s me.”
TS: Well, you’re really keeping busy lately. Didn’t you fly in from the Coast recently because of yet another project?
BC: I had gotten a call from Billy, because he had written a song for the soundtrack of the movie St. Elmo’s Fire. Billy said, “Get ready to go to L. A. I’m doing the song out there with David Foster [producer of Chicago XVII], and we want you on it.” It was a departure for both Billy and myself, because we played with Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro, and David Paich—a group of totally new people. It was a great experience, and I had a great time, too.
TS: You’ve spoken about your drive to be successful. You mentioned that, even at an early age, you had a great desire to “make it.” When you refer to success, what kind of achievements do you equate with success?
BC: Success is relative. When you don’t have it, you crave it. To me, success is all the stereotypical things that come to mind: financial success, popularity, being recognized by your contemporaries—all those qualities that you would assume.
When I talked about my ambitions to make it in the business, what I meant was that I only really know how to do one thing—play the drums—so I wanted to be sure that I at least gave it my best shot. Then if it didn’t happen for me, I would have had the satisfaction of knowing that I had tried—that I had taken a wholehearted stab at it.
TS: Is there a song that you think is most indicative of your individual style and sound—one that you might particularly like to be remembered for?
BC: The song I’m probably most proud of is “Eye On You” from Signs OfLife. I think that’s a good example of my style, because it shows the gamut of my expressions. Another song called “Calley Oh” [Tale Of The Tape] is one I really feel good about. I love that one a lot.
Until I played with Billy, I had never made a record that I felt I had really nailed sound-wise. Whether it had to do with the groups I had been involved in, or the situations with the songs we were recording, I had just never shined as a drummer on record until I became involved with this band. I think it was the same for Billy as well. I’ve listened to some Piper records, and, well, I’m glad I didn’t play on them. [laughs] Not to be rude or arrogant—I don’t mean to put those guys down because I guess there are some good things on those records—but both Billy and I just seemed to come into our strides in this band. I guess it’s just a match made in heaven.